Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Colin Forbes - Tramp in Armour

Colin Forbes was the pseudonym of Raymond Sawkins, a prolific writer of thrillers and war novels Tramp in Armour was one of his first, and in its time was an extremely popular novel. Like many war novels of the 1970s it is an improbable tale of daring British soldiers pitted against a ruthless enemy. Forbes spares no blushes in telling his tale, characters are introduced and killed off in a relentless series of set-pieces.

Sargent Barnes, the commander of one of the British Expeditionary Forces few Matilda tanks is trapped behind enemy lines as German panzers' sweep across Belgium and France. Desperately trying to regain contact with the British, Barnes and his crew must make their way to Dunkirk. So far, so good, but Forbes keeps the story running by giving the reader a series of near unbelievable adventures. Barnes' tank must hide under a bridge as a German convoy drives overhead; Barnes has to hide a tank in a haystack as a German convoy drives past; Barnes has to avoid detection by over-flying German planes.

All of this might seem quite silly. Yet Forbes' story telling is surprisingly compelling, even if at times somewhat laughable (at one point Barnes swims in ice-cold water with "clenched teeth" as a result of his wounds). I was surprised to remember much of the plot from reading this as a boy, testament to Forbes' storytelling - or maybe the mindbogglingly unlikely events.

Oddly the book reminded me most of a computer game. In fact the climax is rather like the final boss in some first-person shooter, where the player has mown down hordes of identikit troops and suffered unbelievable injuries, but still continues. I'm surprised it was never made into a film in that era when war-films were simply "goodies" versus "badies". It's no work of art, but it has a certain something... you'll probably find it on the shelf of a tired hotel somewhere in Yorkshire... you could do worse than read it on a rainy Sunday.

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